Today's Trucking
opinions Rolf Lockwood

Mandatory Out-of-Service Orders Adds Salt to Wounds

Posted: August 1, 2014 by Rolf Lockwood

Compliance, compliance, compliance. Some days that seems to be the only word I hear. The rules and regs that you folks face have become a mountain, whether you’re driving or managing trucks. An expensive mountain, as if you need me to tell you.

Even 10 years ago, certainly 20, almost nobody had to fill a ‘vice president in charge of compliance’ position. It didn’t exist. Didn’t have to.

Nowadays, I’d bet that no single task within your operation takes more time and energy than satisfying the suits who concoct the safety and regulatory frameworks you have to live with. And the risk of failing to satisfy them is, literally, being run off the road and forced to close up shop. It’s a key reason why so many small- and medium-sized carriers get on the phone begging the big guys to buy them. They’ve had it.

Yet the vast majority of truck operators large and small somehow do manage to stay safe and compliant and even, in most cases, profitable. They work very, very hard to do it, and they ­honestly try to be the best they can be. It would be nice to think that the same degree of honesty was shown by the rule-enforcers.

Too much to ask? Seems so, at least in Ontario.

In that province, and I can’t imagine it’s alone in doing this, the enforcement crowd has been instructed by the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) to bring charges in at least 20 percent of all the level 1 and 2 truck inspections they do. At least a 20 percent out-of-service rate is required, no matter what.

How honest is that?

They’re telling you that our industry can never do better than a compliance rate of 80 percent.
Not only is there a quota in terms of the number of inspections that must be done — and I’m OK with that, being just a ­normal performance standard — but the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) is arbitrarily dictating the failure rate.

I’m not making this up. I received a couple of internal MTO documents that were obtained directly from an inspection officer. One of them, entitled ‘TEO2 2013 Performance Expectations’, outlines the specific numbers and percentages that Ontario truck inspectors are instructed to reach. Another — an internal email sent to undisclosed recipients — ended this way with respect to the failure rate: “Basically do what you have to do to meet those numbers.”
In other words, work your butts off until you find faults.

“Perhaps the most insidious impact of now knowing for sure the MTO has a 20 percent quota is the antipathy I will forevermore feel towards their enforcement officers and their superiors,” says a veteran driver friend of mine, a guy who’s worked every ­corner of trucking over several decades. He pulls B-train fuel tanks nowadays, and nobody but nobody is more professional.

“In the past,” he goes on, “I presumed mutual respect and that if I did my due diligence there would be nothing to fear from their ilk, as it was my assumption we were both working towards the same goal. But now I feel like a bovine being channelled through their chutes to market. And I’m real curious to hear how… the MTO defends such an arbitrary policy.”

Asked to do just that, MTO spokesperson Bob Nichols told us, “In order to ensure consistency and integrity within the enforcement program, a 20 percent charge rate expectation has been set for transportation enforcement officers. The 20 percent rate is consistent with what has ­historically been the enforcement program charge rate since 1990.”

So we’ve been victims of this dishonesty for 23 years.

At the very least this OOS quota raise questions about the legitimacy of published out-of-service rates. And about the effect they have on the public’s ­perception of the trucking industry. The average civilian is not going to be comforted by the idea that only 80 percent of trucks are ‘safe’. They already think the worst of us, and being told that one out of every five trucks on the road is an accident waiting to happen just confirms their irrational fears.

I’ve long contended that published out-of-service rates don’t reflect with any accuracy the extent to which trucks are unsafe. Sure, I’ve seen horror stories that deserve to be taken off the road. But now we know that even minor, judgement-call infractions will do the same when the truck’s not really unsafe at all, because a quota has to be filled.

Wonder why I’m cynical?

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